Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe 'told to pack' for return to prison over fresh charges, husband claims

28 October 2020, 20:47 | Updated: 28 October 2020, 22:46

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been told to "pack a bag" for a return to prison after being summoned to court over new charges, according to her husband.

The British-Iranian mother has been detained in Iran since 2016 when she was sentenced to five years in jail over allegations of plotting to overthrow the Iranian government - which she denies.

Richard Ratcliffe said his wife - who has been out of prison on furlough but under house arrest in Tehran since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic - was told she needed to pack a bag to bring to a new court hearing on Monday as it would end in her being jailed again.

"We don't know what will happen on Monday; we don't know how far and how soon they will take forward their prison threat," he said.

"But we do know that the Revolutionary Guard are signalling something to the British government. We also know they are signalling this could have a long time still to run."

Only months from her expected release date, Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was returned to court in September and told to prepare for a second trial that was postponed at short notice with no future date set.

Her husband said it would hear charges of spreading anti-government propaganda, in a case officials dropped in December 2017, after a visit from the-then foreign secretary Boris Johnson, but reopened in May 2018.

Mr Ratcliffe claimed the new charges related to his wife being held as a "bargaining chip" amid a £400m dispute between the UK and Iran.

The debt dates back to the 1970s when the then-shah of Iran paid the UK £400m for 1,500 Chieftain tanks.

After he was toppled in 1979, Britain refused to deliver the tanks to the new Islamic Republic and kept the money, despite British courts accepting it should be repaid.

Sanctions mean there is currently no legal way for the UK to make the repayments.

Mr Ratcliffe said he had a number of "difficult" calls with his wife following the summons while she raised concerns she was "paying the price" for the debt case being postponed.

She told her husband on Wednesday: "It's me paying the price. What am I supposed to do? Just pack a bag and accept I'll be going back?

"I am so desperate. Promise I won't go back. I am dying of this stress - of being taken back.

"I can't stop thinking about it. I am almost paralysed. I envy everyone that is free."

If Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 42, was not back in the UK by Christmas, Mr Ratcliffe said, there is "every chance this could run for years".

"I really hope there's something we're not being told, as on the face of it, the government's response seems disastrous, just extraordinary that they won't change course."

Mr Ratcliffe said he had spoken to Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to ask him to formally assert the UK's right to consular access in visiting Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and attending the trial.

In a tweet, Mr Raab called on Iran to release Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, saying her treatment is "unacceptable and unjustified".

"It tarnishes Iran's reputation and is causing enormous distress to Nazanin and her family. Iran must end her arbitrary detention and that of all dual British nationals," the tweet read.

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested at Tehran's Imam Khomeini airport while travelling to show her young daughter, Gabriella, to her parents in April 2016.

She was later given diplomatic protection by the UK government, which argues she is innocent and that her treatment by Iran failed to meet obligations under international law.